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Familiar territory

One advantage to becoming the man in charge of the school building where you've spent virtually your entire teaching career is that you don't have to spend a lot of time getting familiar with the place.

Sam Skaaland was a sixth grade instructor at the Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School building in Audubon for 31 years. But on Aug. 1, he moved into the principal's office, taking the reins from the recently retired Rick Hanson.

"The transition of coming from the classroom to an administrative position... it's not exactly the same. I'm sitting behind a desk a lot more than I'm used to," Skaaland admitted. "I've always loved teaching and interacting with the kids. I still want to do that (interact) as much as I can.

"But in this position, I feel I can help lead our school in a positive direction -- and help all the teachers and kids in the school instead of just the ones in my classroom.

"It's a big responsibility, but I do care about this school and want the best for all the teachers and students here."

Skaaland's prediliction for helping to mold young minds was almost unavoidable, as his parents and siblings were nearly all involved in education on some level.

"My dad (Tosten Skaaland) was my high school principal in Perham while I was going to school there," he said. "He was there (at Perham schools) for almost 30 years.

"My grandfather was a teacher and superintendent, my grandmother was a teacher, my mother was a teacher...," he said, adding that several of his siblings had gone into the education field as well. "It's a rewarding occupation, where you can use your abilities to help people and make a difference."

After growing up in Perham and graduating from high school, Skaaland went on to attend Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato for two years, where he received an associate of arts degree. After that, he completed a four-year bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Mankato State University, then spent a year teaching in Australia.

"There was a recruiter there (at Mankato State) from Australia, looking for teachers... they would pay our way over there, and the salary was equal or higher (than a comparable position in the U.S.)... it seemed like a great experience."

Skaaland was accompanied on his trip across the globe by his wife, Irene, whom he had met while they were both students at Bethany.

"My first son was born there (in Australia)," Skaaland said. "They wanted me to stay on, but we had family back here (in the U.S.) that wanted to see our son."

So when he learned of a job opening up in Audubon, Skaaland jumped at it.

"I've been here ever since," he said. "I've taught here through the consolidation process, and the process of (planning for) a new building. I've seen a lot of changes here."

Though most of Skaaland's career has been spent teaching sixth grade, he has also done some "departmentalized" teaching in other elementary grades -- which means he's gone into other classrooms to teach specialized classes in social studies, science and reading.

About 15 years ago, Skaaland began pursuing his master's degree in education from the Tri-College (Concordia College, Minnesota State University-Moorhead and North Dakota State University-Fargo), and eventually, obtained a specialist's degree in educational administration.

Though he received offers for administrative positions from other districts, Skaaland ultimately decided to stay at Audubon.

"My family was pretty well entrenched in the area," he said. His wife Irene was employed as a kindergarten teacher at Callaway (she now works at Rossman Elementary in Detroit Lakes), and his kids (Ben, Dan, Joe and Rachel) were going to school in the area as well.

"We were happy here," Skaaland said. So he continued to teach, as well as to coach basketball and football for the LP-A district. But when Rick Hanson retired from his position as principal last spring (after 33 years), Skaaland applied for the job.

"I'm really proud and honored to have been offered the job here, because I feel we have a great school, great teachers and great kids," he said. "I will work my hardest to do the best for everyone here."

So does he have any specific goals in mind?

"My main goal is to show everybody in our community and the area what a great school we have here... it's a small school, but we have outstanding faculty and kids. We have a real family-type atmosphere."

In fact, Skaaland said, he often feels as though the 353 kids who go to school at Audubon are his own children.

"In a small school, you really get to know the kids, their strengths and weaknesses, and you can help them to accomplish their goals and reach their potential," he said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454